Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Work Horse Versus The Showhorse

It's often said that a U.S. Senator is either a work horse or a show horse. Steve Clemons of the Washington Note pens a column comparing the work ethic of Sen. Hillary Clinton to that of Sen. Barack Obama. On that score, Clinton has Obama beaten hands down according to Clemons. While Clemons has been critical of Clinton on a number of policy issues, he says you can't dispute her work ethic. He writes:

[T[here is a great deal I do admire in Hillary Clinton -- and one of the things that simply can't be disputed is her work ethic. I've met her a number of times, usually at receptions -- and each time I decided not to waste the moment with trivial banter but to throw an idea at her or mention a person or issue that would help me understand how real, how informed, or alternatively -- how contrived -- she was.

Every single time she jumped on the issue I brought up and expressed two or three dimensions to the issue that showed she was deeply steeped in this or that policy. In my New America Foundation role, I helped build and support programs as diverse as debates about genetic scientific advancements to family work issues, health care, and wireless spectrum -- not to mention my own core interests in foreign policy, national security/defense issues, and international economic policy. Hillary Clinton and I have had quick encounters that involved her sharing incredibly diverse and serious policy commentary.

On Obama, Clemons raises a point I've never heard raised before about Obama's legislative record. To be sure, it's very brief at four years. What I didn't know is that he actually chairs a committee. If you wonder why you've never seen him in that role, there is a simple answer: Obama has not held a single hearing. Clemons explains:

But I am convinced of something about Hillary Clinton's commitment to use every lever and every aspect of government machinery to push her legislative and policy work that I'm disappointed to say that I can't find as strongly in Barack Obama's profile. My concern has to do with the fact that as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations' Subcommittee on Europe, Obama has held zero hearings -- at least that is how the record appears to me.

Compare this to the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe, which is having constant hearings -- or to the Senate Subcommittee's work before Obama became Chair -- or to a comparative commitment of Hillary Clinton on a subcommittee she chairs, and the zero hearing detail is disconcerting . . .

But his not calling any hearings in a Senate Subcommittee he chairs ought to raise some questions that he needs to respond to. His Subcommittee deals with Europe, with NATO, with various related political and security matters -- and he's got the gavel and can set the agenda.

Given the stress NATO is experiencing today on many fronts -- from the question of Europe's evolving security identity, to NATO's deployments in Afghanistan, to the evolving question of how to deal with Russia, Kosovo, and other common challenges -- it seems inconceivable that Senator Obama would not want to highlight important policy concerns by way of hearings.

What I found surprising about Clemons' observation is the fact that in the more than a dozen debates which have taken place between the Democratic candidates during this election season, I don't recall a single question asking Obama what he had done in his role as a committee chairman, or anyone asking him why he hadn't held a single hearing in that role. It's a fact that speaks volumes.


Doug said...

Clinton did bring it up in the debates prior to Ohio & Texas.

He became chair of the subcommittee just as he was beginning his Presidential campaign. This line of attack doesn't show much more about a candidate other than that Presidential candidates don't spend a lot of time doing their jobs.

It's not necessarily admirable, but it's nothing new either.

As for the "work horse" v. "show horse" thing, it reminds me of school days where some of the best students didn't have to work very hard and others earned their grades by grinding it out. Which kind of student would be preferable at a job depends on the job. Some jobs require more inspiration; whereas others require more perspiration.

I'm up in the air on which kind of job the Presidency is -- depends on the year, I suppose. If you want the better administrator, Clinton would probably be the choice; if you want the better leader, Obama would probably be the choice.

SCClemons said...

Thanks for your link to my post. As Doug mentioned, it did come up in the debates...and then Hillary Clinton actually made an ad referring to the fact that Obama had not had a hearing on the European subcommittee.

When I researched the piece, I thought I would find the opposite -- a junior senator drilling into policy and taking advantage of his new smcmte chairmanship and expected to find Clinton a bit distracted by the high drama of her life. She had had a number of low-profile hearings in Environment and Public Works in which she chairs a Superfund Subcommittee - -and she held several hearings.

But this is a small indicator perhaps of overall performance -- but as a former Senate staffer, it was an arena of comparison that few others had made.

best regards,

Steve Clemons
The Washington Note

Gary R. Welsh said...

Thanks for clarifying the point, Doug and Steve. I've heard so many issues discussed between Clinton and Obama, but this is not one of them. I'm surprised it hasn't earned more discussion in the media. It seems more relevant than a lot of the issues discussed as of late.

MissouriDemocrat said...

Most likely we will not hear the mainstream media cover this aspect of Sen. Obama's work. This is becauase as the Clinton's, Geraldine and others are learning, you can't criticize these people without suddenly having the "race" card pulled and having yourself branded as a racist. I honestly could care less if he is purple, but I want him to earn the dollars the people pay him. All three draw a salary to run for higher office it seems. At least McCain and Clinton do seem steeped in knowledge or the issues and adhering to a work ethic admirable. If my party nominates Obama, I will have no hesitation in voting for McCain. Say this has nothing to do with Mr. Obama's race.... but his ideas. He is all fluff and no bread dough. My party needs a wake up call. President Clinton needs to tell Howard Dean and others, let this thing play out without your input, let Michigan and Florida be counted period or I will be forced to address the nation and plainly state Obama is not qualiffied to be President, a fact I know because of having served as President. Then Clinton needs to tell them he will endorce John McCain in the best interests of the nation as a whole. Wonder how many trips to the restroom Howard Dean would make after that kind of pronouncement?

Anonymous said...

Well, I would not be srurpised at the Clinton's being willing to destroy the Democratic Party, rather than admit defeat.

Look, Obama is ahead in the delegate count, the popular vote and the bumber of states won. He seems to have organized a damn fine campaign and learned how to organize a strong organiztion across the country. He's tapped into a broader desire in this country for change, which another Clinton or even a McSame (BUSH III) would not satisfy. And this may seem idealistic to some, but I think he can bring us to another level of discussion and inspire us to be better than we think is possible.

Of course, I assume that Gary will be backing McSame and a return to the good old last 7 years. I'd have considered McCain if he didn't change all his moderate points to gain the religious right at the same time that he wants moderate voters.

The key question is.. are we better off now than 8 years ago? If not, vote Democratic. If so, vote Republican.

Eclecticvibe said...

Show Horse, Work Horse. I'm voting for the Dark Horse candidate.


tjefferson said...

This is the difference between wonkish workhorse Jimmy Carter and visionary leader Ronald Reagan. Your analysis misapprehends the qualities that make a great President as opposed to a good governor or senator.

I'll take Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter,